TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER
THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP
PRESS CONFERENCE
AMBASSADOR'S RESIDENCE, WASHINGTON DC

12 September 2001

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming along. I can only say again, on behalf of the Australian people how incredibly distressed I am, and I know all of our fellow countrymen and women are, about the terrible events in the United States, particularly in New York and Washington over the past 36 hours. Iíve had the opportunity of conveying, as you know, on behalf of the Australian nation to the President, our feelings.
This morning I had the opportunity of attending a special sitting of the House of Representatives and the Senate and I did have the opportunity of going onto the floor of the Senate chamber and in particular, expressing my condolences to the two Senators from New York, including Senator Hillary Clinton.
And it was an opportunity also in discussion with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader in the Senate, Senator Lott, and the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, Congressman Richard Gephardt, and many other members of Congress to express our very deep sense of condolence, our empathy, our compassion for the American people in this very, very difficult set of circumstances.

Iíve also indicated that Australia will provide all support that might be requested of us by the United States in relation to any action that might be taken. Like everybody else Iím hopeful that those responsible will be hunted down and treated in the manner that their despicable behaviour deserves, and brought to justice. As to what is happening on that front, youíre probably as well informed on that as I am. But it is a terrible moment in American history. It has implications for other nations. Nobody should imagine that theyíre immune from this. Australia is not immune from this kind of possibility and anybody who suggests that Australia is somehow or other different and that precautions taken by other nations donít need to be taken by Australia and Australians are deluding themselves. The ease of travel, the ease of communications, the ease of globalisation of so much of the world now means that nobody is immune from the possibility of this kind of outrage and all of us have to take that on board.

In many respects, yesterday marked the end of an era of a degree of innocence following the end of the Cold War and a decade in which it seemed as though things which posed a continuous threat were behind us. But regrettably we now face a possibility of a period in which the threat of terrorism will be with us in the way the threat of a nuclear war was around for so long before the end of the Cold War. I think it is as bad as that and I donít think any of us should pretend otherwise.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, whatís your latest information on the Australian fatalities?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the best information I have, Nigel, is three confirmed. There were two on one of the aircraft coming out of Los Angeles and there was one person identified as having been killed who was working in the World Trade Center. Now Iím not suggesting that thatís the limit of it.
We would all hope, thatís bad enough, but we would all hope that there wouldnít be any more but we have to recognise that there could well have been a lot of Australians working in the Trade Center. There could well have been other Australians on the aircraft. There was a concern, I think I mentioned it yesterday, about some Defence personnel at the Pentagon, but they are both safe and well.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I mean Iím not aware of any confirmed fatalities beyond the three that Iíve mentioned.

JOURNALIST:

When you say Australia will give its full support, what do you mean by that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Iím talking diplomatically and otherwise. We havenít been requested to provide any military assistance, but obviously if we were asked to help we would. It is very important at a time like this that America knows that sheís got friends.

JOURNALIST:

So Australia could provide military support.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we havenít been asked to. What Iím saying Allison is that we would provide support within our capability.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, back in 1991 when the Gulf War broke out then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke committed Australian forces to that confrontation without going to Parliament and he was criticised for that Ö

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I didnít criticise him at the time.

JOURNALIST:

The public did thoughÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I wasnít one of them.

JOURNALIST:

No, but now that youíre Prime Minister, youíre not concerned that there might be criticismÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I will wear that criticism if it comes. I thought Mr Hawke was right, on that occasion, and he received the instantaneous support of the then-Opposition Leader and the Opposition and, you know, you must bear in mind that this is an occasion where America must understand that sheís got friends. But let me stress, I havenít been requested, and Iím not suggesting we will be, but we have to accept that this is an occasion where we should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans, because this is not just an assault on America, itís an assault on the way of life that we hold dear in common.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, when and how will you return to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Iím expecting to go back to Australia this afternoon. The Americans have offered me a Defence aircraft which would take an official party Ė Iím sorry that it canít extend for security considerations, no disrespect to you, let me stress immediately, but it canít extend beyond the official party ÖIím sorry for that butÖand Iíll be going to Honolulu and then making other arrangements to get home from there.

JOURNALIST:

Commercial flight?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Iím not entirely certain at the moment, that could well be the case but, you know, the situation is still unfolding.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

My official party. Nobody else. And Iíve been told by the Defence authorities that that is how they want it.

JOURNALIST:

Australia might needÖdo you have in mindÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, increased airport surveillance, the whole gambit. I mean, when something like this happens, youíve got to go over everything that you do.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, itís already being discussed by the national security committee of Cabinet and work is already underway.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think there will be implications for the security arrangements for CHOGM?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the security arrangements for CHOGM are already very tight and weíll obviously review them again. Iím not suggesting that thereís an immediate further complication as far as CHOGM is concerned, but when something like this happens you go back to basics on all your arrangements and thatís essentially what weíre going to do with every aspect. And we should and every nation that shares values in common with America should do the same.

JOURNALIST:

A lot more security checks andÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, Iím not ruling anything out because I do not think that we should delude ourselves that we are in some way immune.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I donít think we have, but I think thereís a tendency, something for us, and we all like to believe it and we all think that thereís a patch in the world called Australia thatís a little different from everywhere else, but itís not really and we have to understand that we have to take precautions and accept approaches that we otherwise would not have wanted.

JOURNALIST:

Does this episode have implications for our refugeeÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Look Iím not seeking in any way to link those two things, Tony.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, on CHOGM, will you be contacting Prime Minister Blair or any other Commonwealth leaders about that meeting? In light of theÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I havenít got any plans at the moment, but I, Dennis, you never rule anything out. I donít want to be reminded in a couple of days time that I said I wouldnít and if I do, I mean, but I donít have that in mind at the moment, but I might.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) What was your feeling in response to the very extended applauseÖ

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I was very touched by it and it was a demonstration to me of the closeness of the relationship. I think the Americans appreciated the fact that I went there very deliberately. I mean, obviously because of what has happened the arrangements for my address to the joint sitting were naturally cancelled. But I indicated that I wanted to go there and to demonstrate, by my presence, the compassion that we felt for the American people and the closeness we felt and the identification with the values for which America stands. I mean, this is a time when you have to stand by people who have the same view on life as you have.
You canít have, you canít cherry pick a close relationship.

JOURNALIST:

On that score, Prime Minister, if it emerges that this is an example of state backed terrorism and America decides to take action against a particular state, would Australia consider supporting America militarily in that action?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, we are not going, I am not going to hypothesize, I am simply going to state the principle that we will render all the assistance we can within our capability. That is what I am saying.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what is your assessment of the incident on the US economy and the world economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I would hope that they donít have any long-term impact. I suppose it would depend a bit on how quickly things return to normalcy as far as travel and as safe as it was. There is no suggestion they wonít. There may be a lapse of a few days, but I would hope that the impact on the economy would not be lasting. I have not really sat down and thought about the economic impact. Iíve thought more about the human and political and diplomatic impact.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you wrote to George Bush. Have you had a chance to talk to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well I had three hours with him on Monday andÖyes, I realize that. No, I havenít sought to speak to him becauseÖ

JOURNALIST:

Have you had any briefings from the Americans?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I have, yes, I have. I have had several.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

I have had several high level briefings from the Americans on a number of things which I wonít choose to go into.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, on this airport security, (inaudible) have you received any specific warnings or advice that Australia requires upgraded security?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Have you offered the Americans the services of our intelligenceÖ?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we already have an arrangement. Tony, itís there. We have a close intelligence sharing arrangement with the United States, with the United Kingdom and Canada.

JOURNALIST:

But in unraveling this particularÖ?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me say this, we have an extensive intelligence collaboration, very extensive, too. And we should, too. I wonít say anymore than that.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, (inaudible)Öcrime at the Pentagon was actually intended for the White House (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Karen, well I suppose in a retrospective sense, yes. But you donít really when something like this happens. We are allÖ we are lucky, we are safe, you think of the people who werenít so lucky. Thatís what has preoccupied me. I just feel so desperately sorry for those poor people in that Trade Center building. Itís just terrible. The police, the 150-200 fire department people who were crushed. There is always a special poignancy to me about people whose job it is to protect others when they get caught. I feel desperately sorry, particularly sorry for them.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there was a meeting yesterday.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, yes, I am very happy to see my son. He has been on a working holiday in England for six months and it was very nice of him to come over and see his mum and dad. Of course, you sort of think about your family and you sort of grab hold of them, physically and emotionally, on an occasion like this, circumstances like this Ė itís very natural. But we are lucky, so are all of you. I mean there are a lot of people who have not been so lucky. Thatís how I look at something like this.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I have spoken to both of them.

JOURNALIST:

Are you happy to be going home?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I donít know that I have thought about whether I am happy or not. I mean I am always happy to be going home to Australia but I havenít sort of thought to think about that. I wanted to be in Washington today. I wanted to go to the Congress. I wanted to go to the Cathedral to show the sense of national compassion that we feel for the Americans. But having done that I think it is appropriate I do go back to Australia because there are things to do, including in relation to the matters I have been talking about. There is a lot to be done and it is obviously my responsibility to go back home as soon as possible now that I have had the opportunity of properly conveying our sense of distress and compassion to the American Government and the American people.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)Öwhat will your priorities be when you get back then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, obviously following up on some of the things I have said in relation to security and other reviews. I would hope that we have the opportunity, I will discuss it with others when I get back, have an appropriate, larger memorial service in Australia. I know there was one organised quickly by the Governor-General for which I thank him. But I would like a larger one, perhaps early next week. And bear in mind, that we will not only be mourning the deaths of Americans, but we will be mourning the deaths of, I hope, not too many more Australians, but certainly the deaths of some Australians. I am told there were something like 15,000 inquiries logged by DFAT in the space of about 12 or 18 hours, which gives you an idea of the magnitude of concern that people feel, and also the enormous number of Australians now who work and live in the United States. It is a global world, but particularly in the English-speaking world, the mobility of people, particularly the young, is very great.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, when do (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I will fly in whatever circumstances is appropriate at the time and if that means in the future flying commercially, of course I will. I mean, of course I will. I am not, certainly, going to sort of use an incident like this as some kind of accelerated justification for other things. I flew commercial in the United States, and so did all of us.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, there is a risk in anything you do, obviously. I mean I canít, I have got work to do. Iíve got duties to fulfill and I have got places to visit. I mean, I have to travel. We all do.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I wonít be returning to the United States before, I would say, sometime next year. I donít expect to return, I mean I always like visiting America.

JOURNALIST:

But do you feel there is unfinished business?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I do but I mean, that is something that I haveÖI mean I feel that the way you put it, I do, but I will be back. And I hope to come back here next year as Prime Minister but that is something that will be in the hands of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. I was just making the point, I mean of the many reflective pieces I read in the American press this morning there was one that made the point that we, America in particular, but I think it applies to us, too, that we have gone through a decade of thinking that the Cold War is over and we are in an era where you donít sort of have ubiquitous threats hanging around. But, in a way, yesterday has brought that period to an end. I am not saying that we are now entering an era that is going to be the same as the Cold War, but I just was making the point that itís different, it feels different, and itís something that we have to accept may be different.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)Ödo you feel that we should be cautious about making judgments?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you have to be satisfied that you have accurately identified the perpetrators. I certainly would not want innocent people made to suffer, but I certainly believe that what was done yesterday was an act of war against the United States and the Americans are entitled to, having properly identified those responsible, are entitled to retaliate. I think what we were being urged to do this morning by reference from those passages from Matthew, is to be measured and careful. But the people have got to be brought to justice and I think the preacher used the words ďhunted downĒ Ė I listened very carefully.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)ÖPrime Minister, can I ask a question?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Dennis hasnít asked one yet.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, how does it feel toÖ(inaudible)? Do you think that is appropriate? Should the Americans treat this as (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if part of the debate is to suggest even ever so slightly, that this has happened because the Americans have retreated a bit, I think that is nonsense. I donít think that it has anything to do with that at all. As to whether they should, no. I donít think they will. I think it is important that countries like Australia play a role in identifying ourselves with the Americans. I mean, just because you are big and strong doesnít mean that you canít feel lonely and you canít feel that your heart has been ripped out. And I think that is very important, therefore, that Americans know that they have got some really good, reliable friends.

JOURNALIST:

On the matter of the APEC meetingÖ?

PRIME MINISTER:

The APEC meeting?

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)ÖCHOGMÖ(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we mentioned the APEC meeting. I canít remember the precise exchange we had on it, but it was certainly mentioned in the context of our discussions about China.

JOURNALIST:

Are you looking forward to being in Shanghai?

PRIME MINISTER:

I always like to be in Shanghai.

JOURNALIST:

Are you going to Shanghai?

PRIME MINISTER:

My current schedule suggests that I will be in Shanghai at the time of the APEC meeting.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me say in relation to that, that there are tens of thousands. Indeed, there are probably several hundred thousands of Australian-Lebanese and other Arab heritages. And they are good citizens and they are entitled to the same decent treatment and respect that we extend to all of our citizens, and I hope, speaking from, however inadequately, from a Christian perspective, I ask all Australians to extend to their fellow countrymen and women -- whether they are of Islamic faiths, Christian faiths, Jewish faiths, or no faith at all Ė tolerance, decency and inclusion. We are a harmonious society. I want to keep it that way, and the people of Middle Eastern extraction in Australia, and the ordinary Australian citizens of that extraction should not be judged by the dastardly deeds of a few. I encourage everyone to re-double their sense of acceptance and tolerance towards people of different backgrounds and different ethnicities. And we have, by and large, been fortuna! te in that respect. But it is very important, having said that, to understand that there are a number of countries in the world that do harbour terrorists, they do give them comfort and that is one of the reasons why terrorism sometimes hits with devastating and callous effects. There are too many safe harbours for terrorism in the world and we should make that known.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Jim, in answer to another question in another context, I said I didnít want to link two things and it is just not something I want to do. And your question, in any event, is completely hypothetical.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the President last night said America would not differentiate (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

I think in a situation like this what the President said was absolutely understandable and reasonable and I agree with that.

JOURNALIST:

Which countries do harbourÖ?

PRIME MINISTER:

I donít want to go any further than to state the general principle. I think you are all aware of where some of the suggestions lie.

Thank you.

END


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